Mystery Collier

A black and white scan of the seafloor revealing a shipwreck
A side-scan sonar image provides a way of determining the size of the vessel. This vessel is estimated to be roughly 108 feet in length and carries two or three masts. Photo: NOAA/SBNMS

Ship Stats

A  scan of a shipwreck
Side-scan sonar image of mystery wreck. Photo: NOAA/SBNMS

Depth: over 400 feet

Length: 108 feet* Breadth: 23 feet*
Depth of Hold: Unknown
* as measured by side scan sonar where vessel rests on seafloor

Built: Year unknown; wooden, two-masted schooner, builder unknown

Cargo Capacity: Unknown

Port of Registry: Unknown

Owner: Unknown

Date Lost: Possible late 19th or early 20th centuries

Crew: Unknown

Sunk By: Unknown Survivors: Unknown

Data Collected on Site: Side-scan sonar; ROV photography and video

Significance: Possibly late 19th or early 20th century sailing technology. Vessel representative of regional trading and exchange of raw materials and commodities between Boston and Maine. Unknown identity provides researchers opportunities to fill in gaps of knowledge and history.

Present Day

A bell among other debris on the seafloor
A copper bell sits among plates, coal, and debris. Photo: NOAA/SBNMS

In 2003, the sanctuary located a coal carrying sailing vessel or collier, much smaller than either Frank A. Palmer or Louise B. Crary. Vessels of this size were more common than great coal schooners and carried coal to heat people's homes, power textile factories, and fuel railroads during the 19th and 20th centuries. The sanctuary is studying this unidentified collier shipwreck to discover its identity and learn about its crew. Archaeologists used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to record video of the shipwreck's diagnostic features, such as the artifacts found on its deck and its construction features. These clues will help researchers narrow down the time period in which the vessel operated.

The ship's location near the sites of Portland and Palmer-Crary wrecks gave researchers the opportunity to include this wreck in a multi-year shipwreck exploration telepresence project in 2019-2020. For more information about the mission with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Marine Imaging Technologies, visit the Sanctuaries Live webpage.

Historical Background

An anemone attached to a shipwreck
An anemone perches on the bow of the mystery collier (another term for coal carrier). Photo: NOAA/SBNMS

The coal trade between New England and the mid-Atlantic states supported a large fleet of sailing colliers during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of these vessels were schooners with anywhere from two to six masts. The smaller schooners with two masts, represented by this site, carried cargoes of ice or stone south and returned north with holds full of coal.

Debris from a shipwreck
Additional items found at the site may provide means of dating the wreck. Photo: NOAA/SBNMS
a gray fish swims near a shipwreck
A cusk slowly swims around the stern post of the ship. Photo: NOAA/SBNMS
cool on the seafloor with an orange fish nearby
Coal is the primary item on and around the wreck, giving evidence of the ship's purpose. Photo: NOAA/SBNMS
Bottles rest on the seafloor
Among the artifacts found at the mystery collier site were bottles and cups. Photo: NOAA/SBNMS
a toilet bowl on the seafloor
A toilet bowl provides evidence of the very human nature of ship life. Photo: NOAA/SBNMS
the sole of a shoe on the seafloor
A leather shoe gives one cause to think about the crew that may or may not have survived the sinking. Photo: NOAA/SBNMS